Meg Kelsey: Mom, Wife and District Attorney

As I continue to interview inspiring ladies, I notice there is one common denominator: many of the women who have experienced or witnessed loss, pain, drastic change, grief, major processes of growth… in sum, women who have been hit by life in powerful ways, and who have overcome these challenges with resilience and inner strength, often become agents of change in the lives of those who are fortunate enough to cross their path.  Quite recently I went through a devastating and traumatic divorce and am currently going through the (hopefully last) stages of grief after that loss.  The process of grieving has been BY FAR, the most difficult experience I have endured.  During the weeks and months just after the realization of my loss, some days I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning, I couldn’t find the answers to innumerable questions and the void in my soul is still, today, indescribable.  However, although I don’t have any children just yet, I am certain that the place of a husband in my life can not even begin to compare to losing a child.  As humans, I believe we are not meant to experience certain things, and losing a child is certainly one of them.  Whoever manages to live with a purpose after such an experience, in my opinion, gains a remarkable understanding of life that the rest of us are simply unable to attain.

Meg, 32, is a passionate mother of two boys -and if all goes well – soon-to-be mom of three: Meg and her hubby are applying for adoption of a lucky little one out there!  She was nominated by Ileana Ramirez, who in turn, was nominated by  Lex Weinstein.  Meg is an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Virginia.  I find it extremely exciting to know that there are women like Meg in our justice system.  It is easy to be outraged by the many injustices taking place in the world every single day; the outrageous and unfair killing of innocent people, women abused, children kidnapped, prisoners tortured, the list goes on and on.  I am one of those who has gone through periods of not reading the newspapers because it is too much of a weight to carry; being aware of these events and not being able to do enough to eradicate them is frustrating.  But then, there are people like Meg, who case by case, spatter humanity and a holistic approach to the stories that cross her path.  Unfortunately, the work of people- of women like Meg doesn’t make the covers of newspapers as often as the heart-wrenching stories that dominate the media, but it is reassuring to know that there are women like her working hard to change lives.

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Where are you from?
Virginia Beach, VA
You are a District Attorney, what exactly does your work consist of?
As an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney (same as a District Attorney or State’s Attorney), our office represents the state in prosecuting crimes that occur in our city. We are divided into teams based on the type of crime. I have been on teams that prosecute property crime, white collar crime, and drug-related crime.  We also have teams that handle juvenile cases, domestic violence crime, gang and violent crime. My caseload is over 100 cases at any given time and I’m in court 4-5 days a week for motions, pleas, and trials. For example, in prosecuting a Distribution of Heroin case I would typically go to court for a preliminary hearing, a motion arguing constitutional issues, trial, and/or a guilty plea.
What inspired you to follow this career path?
I was lovingly described as “disputatious” as a child. I loved to analyze and argue, which was loads of fun for my parents. In college, I began to read more about social justice and human rights issues, particularly the work of International Justice Mission, and I felt passionate about giving a voice to the marginalized. I started to think seriously about law school, and after spending 3 years in Argentina after college I returned to the States as a student to get my JD. While in school, I participated in a community clinic, offering education and resources to a low-income neighborhood close to my school, and also took criminal law courses that completely captivated me. I greatly respect the work of criminal defense attorneys and value those who fill that role in our justice system, but I wanted to start my legal career on the prosecution side. I feel strongly about advocating for the communities who suffer from and the individual victims of crime.
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What is a typical day in your life?
Typically my husband and I are up by 5:30am to get ready before our son, Elijah -who just turned 1-, wakes up. I am out the door by 7:30am and in the office to gather my files and finish prep for the court that day. I could be in court for anywhere from 30 minutes to 7 hours, it just depends on what (and how many) cases I have. I leave the office by 5:00pm and most weekdays I bring some work home with me to do after my son goes to sleep.
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As a major goal, what would you like the impact of your work to be?
A prosecutor’s duty is, broadly, to seek justice. However, at times, my job feels hopelessly reactionary. I receive a case file after a crime has been committed – after months or years of decisions and circumstances that lead to this action of breaking the law. Many times, the path begins with a broken family or life in poverty. Those circumstances are not an excuse to commit a crime but can provide part of an explanation.
One goal I have is to approach cases in a more proactive manner. For me as a prosecutor, that involves a change in mindset towards the individual defendants I see every day. For example: if men and women committing prostitution are themselves victims of human trafficking, how do we identify and prosecute those responsible?
If drug users are trapped in addiction to opioids stemming from dependence on pain killers, how do we provide treatment and resources to address the addiction?; if a veteran is shoplifting merchandise because he has an untreated mental disorder, how do we diagnose and treat that illness? Answering the above questions when balancing the goals of punishment (retribution/rehabilitation/deterrence/incapacitation) could promote justice by preventing further injustice. Thankfully there are a number of incredible resources in my jurisdiction- such as first offender laws and alternative drug/mental health/veteran track courts that I can offer and encourage defendants to pursue.  We can leave for another day the debate on punishment theory and the role of law enforcement in society but I hope to make a difference one case at a time for both victim and defendant.
If you could publish an autobiography, how would you title it?
“Geezer”  My dad gave me the nickname when I was little because he said I was like having a grandma around the house.   I like to think I showed maturity and wisdom beyond my years, but it was probably because I was stubborn and opinionated. My brothers have continued to call me various forms of ‘Geezer’ and I now find it endearing.
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Tell us ONE challenge you’ve encountered?
 When I was 20 weeks pregnant with my first son, Jack, we found out he had a severe chromosomal disorder that was “incompatible with life”. For a variety of reasons, I was prepared emotionally, spiritually and intellectually to make the decision to continue with the pregnancy.  The most difficult moment was saying goodbye to my son after carrying him to full term, giving birth and spending 2.5 days with him in the hospital. He made me a mommy and I’m forever changed and forever grateful for the chance to have him as my son.
I’m sure anyone who has lost a loved one understands the challenge of grief. It puts life into perspective. I love my career and am incredibly fulfilled by my work. But it isn’t the point of my life.
In grieving the loss of my son I have felt the freedom to fail, freedom from living to please others, and freedom to live for heaven. The challenge of grief will not (and should not) completely end in this life and I pray that the process continues to grow me and enable me to love others well.
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What is your choice of each of the following:
A song- Quimbara by Celia Cruz . Or anything by Celia, the Queen of Salsa
A place- Panarea, Italy
An inspiring woman in history- Deborah the Judge
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